In a little corner of a tiny room sits an “ancient man” trying to meticulously preserve an age-old tradition. Out in the porch, are his family members shaping, their future and, wood from the locally found Aale Mara tree into toys and other wooden articles. Most villages in Channpatna town, some 60 kilometres from the Information & Technology capital of Bangalore, house such toymakers.
The toys are coloured with lac, a natural resin. For the final glossy finish, they are polished. Earlier, only rosewood and sandalwood were used to make popular dolls. Today, sandalwood costs about INR 5000/kilogram, (USD 81/kg) and therefore the demand for rich wood products is coming down drastically.
The art of making toys from wood dates back to the era of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore. It is believed that he invited artisans from Persia to train the locals in wooden toy making.
The artisans sell their produce to the state-owned emporiums or other dealers and do not get to interact with the customers often. However, most visitors are welcomed with open arms and ushered into their workplaces, backyards and porches. The toys cost anywhere between Rs 10-Rs 500 (USD 0.16- USD8) depending upon the size, design and intricate work. Apart from toys, wooden jewellery like bangles, bracelets, necklaces, beads and furniture is also manufactured in these back alleys of Bangalore.
This toy village of Karnataka not only churns out cute and affordable made in India toys but its corridors reflect mathematics and science silently. So much so for angular momentum and gravity, a toy-maker Shahnawaz Hussain told Arabian Gazette, “You should buy this spinning top, it will automatically change sides in between and will start spinning on the wrong side.” His shy neighbour Afroz Sidiqqui has never been to school but has been accurately making scales and geometrical instruments since the past 15 years now.
It is not a child’s play, the business of toy making employs over 5000 artisans who earn on an average INR 200-500 (USD 3-USD 8) per day. The Karnataka State Handicraft Development Corporation Limited (KSHDCL) has registered around 1033 artisans. “Channapatna toys are now out there in the global market. These are supplied to expats, wholesale dealers and exporters. Many software companies in Bangalore also procure these from our authorized Cauvery Handicrafts Emporium. There are more than 5000 artisans working but they are not under us….,” Sahukauh, Project Manager of Channapatna Toys told us.
Interestingly, some of these wooden dolls adorn the shelves of the White House, the official residence of the United States. The US first lady Michelle Obama had selected some of these colourful Indian toys during her visit.
What attracts the global audience is the fact that natural dyes are used to colour these artefacts. The artisans told us that they use spices and easily available products such as Turmeric for yellow colour, indigo powder for blue, and vermillion for red. Turmeric when mixed with vermillion produces a tangy orange colour. What more can one ask for—a traditional art form, organic and natural colours used for dyeing, and competitive prices. No wonder, these are a hit among the global audience and India too is awakening to its own indigenous art form.